$130,904 with $108,774 in attorney fees Race Discrimination – Workplace Employment Discrimination Case


Race Discrimination

Injuries: Humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress

Amount of Settlement: $130,904.79, plus attorney’s fees of $108,744.36

Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Marc L. Breakstone Boston, Massachusetts

Court: Suffolk Superior Court

Details of the Case

In July 1994, plaintiff and four other African-American employees of a quasi-public agency in Boston were laid off for financial reasons.  The layoff was conducted in a degrading, offensive and intimidating manner.  Each of the laid-off women was escorted to her desk, closely observed as she packed her belongings and physically searched and escorted off the premises in a rushed manner.

Plaintiff later learned that a similarly situated white male employee received considerably more favorable treatment in the manner in which he was laid off.  That employee received a telephone call at home that he should not come into work on the day of the layoff.  He was permitted to come in on the following day and spend as much time as he needed to clean out his desk and close out his affairs.  During that time, he was not escorted, watched or searched.  As a result of the abusive treatment, plaintiff suffered significant emotional distress and embarrassment. That treatment included having armed guards stand over them and search their personal belongings as they packed up to leave.  The women were physically escorted off premises and denied the opportunity to say good bye to colleagues.  Several of the claimants suffered profound emotional distress after being treated like criminals.

Plaintiff, along with the other complainants, filed a complaint for race discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.  Plaintiff also led a campaign to inform political leaders and the public of the abusive manner in which she and the other women were treated.  The story received considerable coverage in the Boston media markets.

Following a five-day public hearing in 1998, the MCAD commissioner found that plaintiff and the other women were subjected to disparate treatment in the manner in which the layoff was conducted and were entitled to awards of damages.  Plaintiff received an award of $35,000.00 plus approximately $30,000.00 for attorney’s fees and costs.

The defendant appealed the hearing officer’s findings to the full MCAD commission.  In 2000, the full MCAD commission affirmed the hearing officer’s findings of fact and rulings of law.

The commission’s finding was then appealed by the defendant to a Superior Court justice who held a hearing in 2002.  In 2003, the Superior Court justice reversed the MCAD commission finding.  The judge ruled that the five African-American women were not similarly situated to the while male employee, and, therefore, reversed the commission’s findings and rulings.

Plaintiffs appealed the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which in 2005 issued a decision reversing the Superior Court judge and finding that the five complainants had proven a case of discrimination based on race.  Importantly, the Appeals Court also found that the complainants were entitled to an award of interest on their judgments and attorney’s fees awards.

Defendant appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

In July 2007, the SJC issued its decision, which affirmed the Appeals Court and the MCAD finding in favor of the plaintiff and her co-complainants and entered awards of damages accordingly. The ruling in that case established a landmark precedent for the way discrimination cases would be resolved in Massachusetts in the future.